Panel will develop state police staffing standard

Now that the state legislature has repealed the 14-year-old — yet often ignored — minimum state police staffing requirement, its chief investigative arm has begun developing standards that will take its place.

The Program Review and Investigations Committee has approved a scope of study that should produce a new series of criteria to replace the more specific 1,248-trooper mandate repealed in special session last month.

And while that study isn’t due to the full General Assembly until January, lawmakers conceded it won’t be easy to resolve a question that has prompted many answers over the past century: How should state officials determine exactly how many troopers are necessary?

The study is not expected to recommend a new specific number, but rather a series of standards or principles that state administrators will use to determine how many troopers are necessary to properly protect the public.

“I’m very confident we can do it,” Rep. Mary Mushinsky of Wallingford, the ranking House Democrat on the committee, said Friday. “I know it’s a sensitive topic, but at a local level, towns have to do the same types of analyses.”

The committee has two big advantages, according to Mushinsky: its bipartisan nature and a “crack staff” that includes some of state government’s top researchers.

Unlike most other legislative panels, program review is balanced with five Democrats and five Republicans, with each party providing one of the committee’s two co-chairmen.

“I think our report will carry a lot of weight,” she said. “The report cannot even come out of committee without bipartisan support” because neither party has enough votes to adopt recommendations on its own.

Mushinsky also said expects staff will look at other states’ staffing standards and practices, Connecticut’s demographics and topography, transportation networks and other logistical factors, trends in criminal activity, existing municipal police departments as well as state and federal funding.

Rep. T.R. Rowe, R-Trumbull, the House chairman of the program review panel, said Friday he also believes the group will produce substantive criteria based on excellent staff research and a commitment to put politics aside.

“There is no committee that has worked harder to put partisanship aside than program review,” he said. “We expect it from ourselves.”

A number rarely met

According to the program review staff, statutory levels for specific minimum staffing increased 18 times between 1903 and 1973 — when they were eliminated.

The 1998 General Assembly restored a specific standard, choosing 1,248 — “a number that has rarely been met” by governors and legislatures since then, according to committee staff.

The state police union tried to end that trend last August, filing suit in Hartford Superior Court when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered 56 layoffs that would have pushed trooper levels down from 1,120 to 1,064.

Malloy ordered the layoffs after the troopers’ bargaining unit rejected a two-year wage freeze approved by most state employee unions. Those layoffs were reversed a few months later, but a state judge backed the union in January, ruling the 1,248-trooper standard couldn’t be ignored.

The governor and legislature responded by repealing it during a June 12 special session.

Shortly thereafter, the state police union reported votes of no confidence against the two top administrators in the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection: Commissioner Reuben F. Bradford and Col. Danny R. Stebbins, the highest-ranking uniformed officer.

A spokesman for the union, Andrew Matthews, said Friday that while “we were disappointed” that the governor and legislature repealed the 1998 statute, the program review panel has a reputation as “a fair and impartial group that will give us a fair assessment.”

Matthews added that the union “will be more than ready and prepared” to work with the committee to develop standards that ensure public safety.